Denial review: Rachel Weisz takes on the alternative facts of a Holocaust denier

Mick Jackson’s courtroom drama tells the story of David Irving's ultimately foolhardy decision to sue Deborah Lipstadt for libel

The official trailer for historical drama 'Denial', directed by Mick Jackson and starring Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson and Timothy Spall. Video: Bleecker Street, Entertainment One

Back in the days of pre-post-truth: Rachel Weisz in Denial.

Film Title: Denial

Director: Mick Jackson

Starring: Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall, Andrew Scott, Jack Lowden, Caren Pistorius, Alex Jennings

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 110 min

Thu, Jan 26, 2017, 13:00

   

We know we are in less than nuanced territory when, early on in Mick Jackson’s courtroom drama, a shadowed face stares malevolently through an ill-lit window. The man is David Irving, the notorious English Holocaust denier, and Timothy Spall has decided to play him as a rounder version of the Child Catcher. Such blaring chords sound throughout Denial.

When did you last see a film in which, upon hearing a significant piece of evidence, reporters grab their notebooks and rush for the door? The time has surely come (for reasons of taste, if nothing else) to place a moratorium on scenes in which concentration-camp survivors announce their past by rolling a sleeve and revealing the tattooed number.

Those warnings given, it should be admitted that Denial tells its story with great clarity and that it never flags. Drawing directly from the court reports, David Hare’s script follows Irving’s ultimately foolhardy decision to sue Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz), an American academic, for libel.

Lipstadt characterised Irving as an anti-Semite and Irving knew that, in an English court, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff. The court was thus forced to listen to the sort of half-baked baloney that, in 2000, was just starting to take over the internet.

Making a good fist of Lipstadt’s Queens accent, Rachel Weisz is playing a tricky hand. Her solicitor, Anthony Julius (whose previous role as Princess Diana’s divorce lawyer is made too much of), decided that neither she nor any Holocaust survivors should testify. The lawyers know that Irving, who represented himself, would greatly enjoy the cheap pleasure of the aggressive cross-examination.

As a result, once the case takes off, Weisz’s role is disappointingly passive. She is smart enough to still make something of it. Andrew Scott is suave as Julius. Tom Wilkinson drinks claret convincingly as QC Richard Rampton.

Their good work compensates for Denial’s more clunky moments. This is a gripping tale that ends up saying something encouraging about the justice system. It could hardly seem more relevant than in this era of “alternative facts”.